Sometimes it is the simple gestures one makes without really thinking about them that for another become a random act of kindness meaning far more than the generator ever could have anticipated. For example, late last week I received a note from Carol Schlentner, one of 32 year round residents of Lake Minchumina, Alaska. It made my day.
Ms. Schlentner is a member of the Lake Minchumina Library Association. I suspect most of the community belongs and there is a board that prudently manages meager resources to purchase books well read and passed around during the long winter nights. Last fall the Library Association purchased the three books I have written to date, but were most interested in the book, Eye on the Caribou, about passage of the greatest piece of conservation legislation in American history - the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980.
Lake Minchumina is one of those Alaskan communities to which there is no road. Access is by air or by snowmobile or dog sled in the winter. Thanks to the late “Uncle Ted” Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator in American history, folks do have access to public radio and public television.
Though an ardent conservative “free enterpriser,” Stevens knew the private sector would never find it profitable to broadcast to communities like Lake Minchumina. As the chairman of the powerful Appropriations committee, Stevens made sure NPR and Public Television were well funded.
Books, however, are still important. The community, located on the edge of an eight mile by seven mile lake, sits at the western edge of the expanded Denali National Park and is darn near the geographical center of Alaska. Cell service allowing one to use kindles is non-existent. There is no wi-fi. However, there is a constantly changing panorama of incredible views across the lake at Denali Peak, the restored native name for Mt. McKinley, which, at 20,000 plus feet is the highest mountain in North America.
Passage of ANILCA (the acronym for the lands legislation) also created numerous National Park Preserves along the edges of the national parks to allow subsistence hunting, a right guaranteed all historical users regardless of race or ethnicity by the Alaskan Constitution.
Thus, Lake Minchumina found itself in one of the Denali Park Preserves when, on December 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the lands legislation into law. In her note, Ms. Schlentner made reference to the fact that she and others appreciated the large amount of land that was in protected status. She also pointed out that as a year round resident for over ten years, she was eligible for a subsistence moose hunt for five days.
She thanked me for writing Eye on the Caribou, the history of the lands legislation, adding that I had made the subject a most interesting read.
“Eye on the Caribou was a great review of what I only heard snippets of as I lived very remotely. We had no mail or telephone, just radio, back when it all took place,” she wrote.
What made the note so rewarding was not the $50 check for another set of the three books. It was the fact that the members of the Library Association had decided my books would be a fine “In Memoriam” donation to Fairbanks’ Northern Alaska Environmental Center in the name of Florence Collins.
Ms. Collins had passed away last November at the age of 95 and had been a long-time member of the Association who in particular reviewed for the Center the numerous and various books written from the environmental point of view regarding the North Star state.
The association also wanted two other pioneers of advocacy for the Alaska lands legislation to be remembered as well - Ginny Wood, and Celia Hunter, who many have called the mother of the Alaska lands legislation.
Cannot begin to say how honored and pleased I was to have the books be a donation in the memory of such great Alaskans. The pleasure is mine and I thank them for their thoughtfulness. It truly made writing the book Eye on the Caribou worthwhile.